Saturday, June 30, 2007

When Did This Mess Begin?

Let’s Play the Blame Game
By Chris Suellentrop, The Opinionator
June 29, 2007
Don’t like Bush? Blame Reagan. It’s 40’s fault that 41 and 43 became presidents, says Michael Barone on his U.S. News blog. Barone writes:
The way we pick vice presidents is crazy. We spend lots of time and money and psychic energy on picking our presidents, with millions of people in one way or the other involved. But we let one man (or, quite possibly this time, one woman) select the vice presidential nominee. And this is considered by just about everyone as the way it should be. Yet, as [Times of London columnist Gerard] Baker points out, vice presidents have a tremendous advantage when it comes to running for president. So the decision of Ronald Reagan at something like 3 in the morning in a Detroit hotel room to pick George H.W. Bush as his running mate leads directly to Bush’s election as president in 1988 and his son’s election as president in 2000 and 2004. Had Reagan picked someone else, it is extremely unlikely that either Bush would have been president.”

Don’t like Alberto Gonzales? Blame Cheney — and more important, “Cheney’s Cheney,” David Addington (photo, l.). The Washington Post recently reported that Addington was the real author of a memo that Gonzales signed and that called the Geneva Conventions “quaint.” Laura Rozen writes at her blog, War and Piece: “Without any apparent opinion or conviction on these matters that out of some circumstance ended up in his inbox, Gonzales lightly signed off on these grave issues of killing, torture and subverting the Constitution, perhaps out of no greater motivation than to please his bosses and advance his career.”

Woody Guthrie would not recognize Our Land anymore as the Rich Have Priced the Outdoors out of Everyone Else's Hands

Barbara Ehrenreich sees through the trees and grasps the forest of increasingly limited access to not only the natural landscape, the American birthright. She also reveals how the current culture of wealth has created a poverty of imagination and its deadening impact. If it's beautiful, only the rich can afford to enjoy it. The naturally beautiful landscapes are becoming inaccessible to all but the most wealthy. She rightly sees what has happened to Key West and other formerly appealing destinations as being destroyed by the wealthy elite, who have no regard for what they are transforming unless it lifts them above the unwashed they step over. Read her article at the digg link. -MS

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Friday, June 29, 2007

What "Liberal Media Bias?" Right-Wingers Are on the Defensive About Talk Radio Dominance

The right-wing talk radio dominance is newly examined and found to not just be an outlet for a conservative point of view. A new report by the Center for American Progress and the Free Press has the right up-in-arms. Its message: right-wingers' dominance of talkradio is a classic market failure.

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With today's highly anticipated release of Michael Moore's newest film, SICKO, I sent to the Key West Citizen a letter to the editor, which is being published on Monday, July 2nd. . They limit letters to 500 words, and no more than one letter every two weeks from a writer.
"Bottom line?" Go see it. Let your legislators know you are hip to their lobbyist-led game, and it's time to address this critical need with a universal health care for all. (Above, Moore with a physician in Havana).


To the Editor:

SICKO, Michael Moore’s latest film jeremiad, about the woeful state of US health care, the profit-driven complicity of insurance and pharmaceutical companies and the timidity of the political establishment to wrestle the beast is also a long-overdue look at our nation’s lack of an adequate universal health care program, the only industrialized country lacking one. He makes his points in an almost uncharacteristic, restrained style, unlike his earlier agit-prop films. He illustrates we actually have, I would maintain, an ILLNESS care industry, with the primary beneficiary being the stockholders’ health.

Moore wants people to feel empowered, to leave the theater and spark social change, and even, if only figuratively, go march in the streets, which he does in a Boomer-flavored, although flaccid, effort by scoring the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” refrain. AARP soldiers against Aetna? A more muscular strategy is required. Medical bills are the #1 reason for bankruptcy in the US. The indigent and the wealthy have coverage. It’s the middle class most squeezed. SICKO rightly points out we have ”free” police, schools, firefighters, libraries, and we don’t consider it “socialism”. We can provide health care the same way.

While he certainly intends SICKO to be a galvanizing cinematic experience, it remains to be seen if it will electrify the audiences the way his earlier, emotional pictures have done. He’s even debated whether those achieved his intended results – did Bowling for Columbine stop gun violence or did Fahrenheit 9/11 stop Bush? SICKO is a remarkable, yet muted, even flawed tome to the choir. It won’t change anyone’s mind. Yet this might be his best picture, ever.

Information is power. Revealing the deep fissures is almost taking candy from a (sick) baby. Offering solutions, a single-payer, free, universal health care isn’t as easy, although his look at other nation’s plans would suggest it is in fact, quite easy – the audience can decide for themselves the merits of how other nations care for its citizens, but quality of life is transparently presented as where one should weigh in. A smarter expose might have openly examined the very tenets the system is built on. The US argues Americans can’t have imported Canadian drugs, in order to protect us from “unsafe” products. Yet, Canadians aren’t dropping from their use. Do secret socialist poisons magically get released once through customs?

SICKO urges us to force politicians to put money and proposals where our mouth and body is, not just in their own lobbyist paid pockets, an easy piñata for Moore. His approach isn’t “balanced”, but is inarguably entertaining. As I left the packed sneak-preview at the Miami theater the comment all around was definite agreement with him. How can you not? It’s non-partisan, an ethical issue. He’s putting the spotlight on greed by the insurance companies and pharms, and their profit mission shouldn’t trump doing the right thing to care for all citizens. Frankly, there are harder hitting documentaries than SICKO. So now it’s up to all of us to do - more.

Free speech for the rich and powerful and wipe that smile off your face

The Roberts-led Supreme Court is setting the stage for bureaucrats to shape American culture from the top down. The 5-4, new, very conservative, Federalist Society flavored opinions that are now prevailing are blatantly striking out to erase the New Deal era courts, the Warren court decisions, even as far back as Madison-era decisions. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Oh, and students, wipe that smile off your face. What you've learned about the Constitution doesn't apply to your class.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Former EPA Chief Whitman Says She Quit Because of Cheney

Christie Todd Whitman says she quit as Bush's EPA administrator after Cheney rewrote coal power plant rules.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dick Cheney, Rogue and Not A Bit Red-Faced About It

In the video to your right, Keith Olbermann deduces that since Dick Cheney insists that he is not subject to the laws of the Executive Branch and since he is not a legislator or a judge, that he must be a "rogue nation" and we should "invade him". While this recent Cheney attempt to prove he is above the law is so ridiculous that it's amusing at first, until it is realized that he's actually getting away with it. No shame at all. Just exercising his views. His own, not anyone else's.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

The CIA reveals its family jewels. Or so they say.

The CIA is coming clean. That's the message the agency is trying to send with the release of its "family jewels" this week. The jewels are contained in a 693-page file that documents many of the clandestine service's darkest deeds, from its post-World War II origins to the Watergate period. But it raises as many questions as it does give answers. Here, David Talbot, comments on the what and why of the CIA's latest regard for coming clean.

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Pushing the Envelope, Cheney Punches

Chapter Two, of the revelatory series by Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker.

Rule and the Rules by Cheney

This extraordinary journalistic series from Washington Post reporters Gellman and Becker, may inherit the premier mantle at the Post in the Woodward-Bernstein tradition for investigative reporting, into the secret life of the Vice President, and more importantly, their revelations into his amassing of Executive power unprecedented in the history of the nation's government. Ironically, this major piece, headed for a Pulitzer, also reveals how the MSM has been asleep at the wheel for the past six years, and acquiesced to the machinations of the Bush/Cheney assault on civil liberties, their lack of accountability and transgressions on the body politic. - MS

The Angler

Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 24, 2007

Just past the Oval Office, in the private dining room overlooking the South Lawn, Vice President Cheney joined President Bush at a round parquet table they shared once a week. Cheney brought a four-page text, written in strict secrecy by his lawyer. He carried it back out with him after lunch.
In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, according to witnesses, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. When it returned to the Oval Office, in a blue portfolio embossed with the presidential seal, Bush pulled a felt-tip pen from his pocket and signed without sitting down. Almost no one else had seen the text.
Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court -- civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions."

"What the hell just happened?" Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded, a witness said, when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out. Even witnesses to the Oval Office signing said they did not know the vice president had played any part.

Vice President Cheney, standing behind the president's desk during a July 2003 meeting, circumvented Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in 2001 on the military commissions order.
The episode was a defining moment in Cheney's tenure as the 46th vicepresident of the United States, a post the Constitution left all but devoid of formal authority. "Angler," as the Secret Service code-named him, has approached the levers of power obliquely, skirting orderly lines of debate he once enforced as chief of staff to President Gerald R. Ford. He has battled a bureaucracy he saw as hostile, using intimate knowledge of its terrain. He has empowered aides to fight above their rank, taking on roles reserved in other times for a White House counsel or national security adviser. And he has found a ready patron in George W. Bush for edge-of-the-envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents did not assert.

Over the past six years, Cheney has shaped his times as no vice president has before. This article begins a four-part series that explores his methods and impact, drawing on interviews with more than 200 men and women who worked for, with or in opposition to Cheney's office. Many of those interviewed recounted events that have not been made public until now, sharing notes,e-mails, personal calendars and other records of their interaction with Cheney and his senior staff. The vice president declined to be interviewed.

Two articles, today and tomorrow, recount Cheney's campaign to magnify presidential war-making authority, arguably his most important legacy. Articles to follow will describe a span of influence that extends far beyond his well-known interests in energy and national defense.
In roles that have gone largely undetected, Cheney has served as gatekeeper for Supreme Court nominees, referee of Cabinet turf disputes, arbiter of budget appeals, editor of tax proposals and regulator in chief of water flows in his native West. On some subjects, officials said, he has displayed a strong pragmatic streak. On others he has served as enforcer of ideological principle, come what may.

Cheney is not, by nearly every inside account, the shadow president of popular lore. Bush has set his own course, not always in directions Cheney preferred. The president seized the helm when his No. 2 steered toward trouble, as Bush did, in time, on military commissions. Their one-on-one relationship is opaque, a vital unknown in assessing Cheney's impact on events. The two men speak of it seldom, if ever, with others. But officials who see them together often, not all of them admirers of the vice president, detect a strong sense of mutual confidence that Cheney is serving Bush's aims.

The vice president's reputation and, some say, his influence, have suffered in the past year and a half. Cheney lost his closest aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to a perjury conviction, and his onetime mentor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a Cabinet purge. A shooting accident in Texas, and increasing gaps between his rhetoric and events in Iraq, have exposed him to ridicule and approval ratings in the teens. Cheney expresses indifference, in public and private, to any verdict but history's, and those close to him say he means it.

Waxing or waning, Cheney holds his purchase on an unrivaled portfolio across the executive branch. Bush works most naturally, close observers said, at the level of broad objectives, broadly declared. Cheney, they said, inhabits an operational world in which means are matched with ends and some of the most important choices are made. When particulars rise to presidential notice, Cheney often steers the preparation of options and sits with Bush, in side-by-side wing chairs, as he is briefed.
Before the president casts the only vote that counts, the final words of counsel nearly always come from Cheney.

'The Go-To Guy on the Hill'
In his Park Avenue corner suite at Cerberus Global Investments, Dan Quayle recalled the moment he learned how much his old job had changed. Cheney had just taken the oath of office, and Quayle paid a visit to offer advice from one vice president to another.
"I said, 'Dick, you know, you're going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you're going to be doing all this political fundraising . . . you'll be going to the funerals,' " Quayle said in an interview earlier this year. "I mean, this is what vice presidents do. I said, 'We've all done it.' "
Cheney "got that little smile," Quayle said, and replied, "I have a different understanding with the president."
"He had the understanding with President Bush that he would be -- I'm just going to use the word 'surrogate chief of staff,' " said Quayle, whose membership on the Defense Policy Board gave him regular occasion to see Cheney privately over the following four years.

Cheney's influence in the Bush administration is widely presumed but hard to illustrate. Many of the men and women who know him best said an explanation begins with the way he defined his role.
As the Bush administration prepared to take office, "I remember at the outset, during the transition, thinking, 'What do vice presidents do?' " said White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, who was then the Bush team's policy director. Bolten joined Libby, his counterpart in Cheney's office, to compile a list of "portfolios we thought might be appropriate." Their models, Bolten said, were Quayle's Council on Competitiveness and Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government.
"The vice president didn't particularly warm to that," Bolten recalled dryly.
Cheney preferred, and Bush approved, a mandate that gave him access to "every table and every meeting," making his voice heard in "whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in," Bolten said.
Cheney has used that mandate with singular force of will. Other recent vice presidents have enjoyed a standing invitation to join the president at "policy time." But Cheney's interventions have also come in the president's absence, at Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels where his predecessors were seldom seen. He found pressure points and changed the course of events by "reaching down," a phrase that recurs often in interviews with current and former aides.

Mary Matalin, who was counselor to the vice president until 2003 and remains an informal adviser, described Cheney's portfolio as "the iron issues" -- a list that, as she defined it, comprises most of the core concerns of every recent president. Cheney took on "the economic issues, the security issues . . . the energy issues" -- and the White House legislative agenda, Matalin said, because he became "the go-to guy on the Hill." Other close aides noted, as well, a major role for Cheney in nominations and appointments.

As constitutional understudy, with no direct authority in the executive branch, Cheney has often worked through surrogates. Many of them owed their jobs to him.
While lawyers fought over the 2000 Florida ballot recount, with the presidential election in the balance, Cheney was already populating a prospective Bush administration. Brian V. McCormack, then his 26-year-old personal aide, said Cheney worked three cellphones from the round kitchen table of his townhouse in McLean, "making up lists" of nominees beginning with the secretaries of state, defense and the Treasury.
"His focus was that we need to prepare for the event that [the recount] comes out in our favor, because we will have a limited time frame," McCormack recalled.
Close allies found positions as chief and deputy chief of the Office of Management and Budget, deputy national security adviser, undersecretary of state, and assistant or deputy assistant secretary in numerous Cabinet departments. Other loyalists -- including McCormack, who progressed to assignments in Iraq's occupation authority and then on Bush's staff -- turned up in less senior, but still significant, posts.

In the years that followed, crossing Cheney would cost some of the same officials their jobs. David Gribben, a friend from graduate school who became the vice president's chief of legislative affairs, said Cheney believes in the "educational use of power." Firing a disloyal or poorly performing official, he said, sometimes "sends a signal crisply." Cheney believes he is "using his authority to serve the American people, and he's obviously not afraid to be a rough opponent," Gribben said.
A prodigious appetite for work, officials said, prepares Cheney to shape the president's conversations with others. His Secret Service detail sometimes reports that he is awake and reading at 4:30 a.m. He receives a private intelligence briefing between 6:30 and 7 a.m., often identifying issues to be called to Bush's attention, and then sits in on the president's daily briefing an hour later. Aides said that Cheney insists on joining Bush by secure video link, no matter how many time zones divide them.
Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI." Experts in and out of government said Cheney's office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to "sensitive compartmented information," the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words "treated as," they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security."
Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.
In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president's office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out. Close aides to Cheney describe a similar one-way valve inside the office, with information flowing up to the vice president but little or no reaction flowing down.

All those methods would be on clear display when the "war on terror" began for Cheney after eight months in office.

A 'Triumvirate' and Its Leader
In a bunker beneath the East Wing of the White House, Cheney locked his eyes on CNN, chin resting on interlaced fingers. He was about to watch, in real time, as thousands were killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Previous accounts have described Cheney's adrenaline-charged evacuation to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center that morning, a Secret Service agent on each arm. They have not detailed his reaction, 22 minutes later, when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
"There was a groan in the room that I won't forget, ever," one witness said. "It seemed like one groan from everyone" -- among them Rice; her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley; economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey; counselor Matalin; Cheney's chief of staff, Libby; and the vice president's wife.
Cheney made no sound. "I remember turning my head and looking at the vice president, and his expression never changed," said the witness, reading from a notebook of observations written that day. Cheney closed his eyes against the image for one long, slow blink.
Three people who were present, not all of them admirers, said they saw no sign then or later of the profound psychological transformation that has often been imputed to Cheney. What they saw, they said, was extraordinary self-containment and a rapid shift of focus to the machinery of power. While others assessed casualties and the work of "first responders," Cheney began planning for a conflict that would call upon lawyers as often as soldiers and spies.

In a bunker under the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney speaks to administration officials, including from far left, Joshua B. Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice and I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby (behind Rice)

More than any one man in the months to come, Cheney freed Bush to fight the "war on terror" as he saw fit, animated by their shared belief that al-Qaeda's destruction would require what the vice president called "robust interrogation" to extract intelligence from captured suspects. With a small coterie of allies, Cheney supplied the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department and the Pentagon.

The way he did it -- adhering steadfastly to principle, freezing out dissent and discounting the risks of blow-back -- turned tactical victory into strategic defeat. By late last year, the Supreme Court had dealt three consecutive rebuffs to his claim of nearly unchecked authority for the commander in chief, setting precedents that will bind Bush's successors.
Yet even as Bush was forced into public retreats, an examination of subsequent events suggests that Cheney has quietly held his ground. Most of his operational agenda, in practice if not in principle, remains in place.

In expanding presidential power, Cheney's foremost agent was David S. Addington, his formidable general counsel and legal adviser of many years. On the morning of Sept. 11, Addington was evacuated from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House and began to make his way toward his Virginia home on foot. As he neared the Arlington Memorial Bridge, someone in the White House reached him with a message: Turn around. The vice president needs you.
Down in the bunker, according to a colleague with firsthand knowledge, Cheney and Addington began contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?

Before the day ended, Cheney's lawyer joined forces with Timothy E. Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, linked by secure video from the Situation Room. Flanigan patched in John C. Yoo (photo, r.) at the Justice Department's fourth-floor command center. White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales (photo, l.) joined later.
Thus formed the core legal team that Cheney oversaw, directly and indirectly, after the terrorist attacks.
Yoo, a Berkeley professor-turned-deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, became the theorist of an insurrection against legal limits on the commander in chief. Addington, backed by Flanigan, found levers of government policy and wrote the words that moved them.
"Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate," recalled Bradford A. Berenson, then an associate White House counsel. Yoo, he said, "was a supporting player."
Gonzales, a former Texas judge, had the seniority and the relationship with Bush. But Addington -- a man of imposing demeanor, intellect and experience -- dominated the group. Gonzales "was not a law-of-war expert and didn't have very developed views," Yoo recalled, echoing blunter observations by the Texan's White House colleagues.
Cheney 'Has the Portfolio'
Flanigan, with advice from Yoo, drafted the authorization for use of military force that Congress approved on Sept. 18. Yoo said they used the broadest possible language because "this war was so different, you can't predict what might come up."

In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception -- without a warrant -- of communications to and from the United States. Forbidden by federal law since 1978, the surveillance would soon be justified, in secret, as "incident to" the authority Congress had just granted. Yoo was already working on that memo, completing it on Sept. 25.
It was an extraordinary step, bypassing Congress and the courts, and its authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object. Among the excluded was John B. Bellinger III, a man for whom Cheney's attorney had "open contempt," according to a senior government lawyer who saw them often. The eavesdropping program was directly within Bellinger's purview as ranking national security lawyer in the White House, reporting to Rice. Addington had no line responsibility. But he had Cheney's proxy, and more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good "public relations" or bureaucratic consensus.
Addington, who seldom speaks to reporters, declined to be interviewed.

"David is extremely principled and dedicated to doing what he feels is right, and can be a very tough customer when he perceives others as obstacles to achieving those goals," Berenson said. "But it's not personal in the sense that 'I don't like you.' It's all about the underlying principle."
Bryan Cunningham, Bellinger's former deputy, said: "Bellinger didn't know. That was a mistake." Cunningham said Rice's lawyer would have recommended vetting the surveillance program with the secret court that governs intelligence intercepts -- a step the Bush administration was forced to take five years later.

Post 9/11 Timeline'

A Muscular Response

'Vice President Cheney, more than any one man, freed President Bush to aggressively fight the "war on terror." With a small coterie of allies, Cheney supplied the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, Justice Department and Pentagon.
On Oct. 25, 2001, the chairmen and ranking minority members of the intelligence committees were summoned to the White House for their first briefing on the eavesdropping and were told that it was one of the government's most closely compartmented secrets. Under Presidents George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton, officials said, a conversation of that gravity would involve the commander in chief. But when the four lawmakers arrived in the West Wing lobby, an aide led them through the door on the right, away from the Oval Office.
"We met in the vice president's office," recalled former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.). Bush had told Graham already, when the senator assumed the intelligence panel chairmanship, that "the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House." Cheney, the president said, "has the portfolio for intelligence activities."
'Oh, By the Way'
By late October, the vice president and his allies were losing patience with the Bush administration's review of a critical question facing U.S. forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere: What should be done with captured fighters from al-Qaeda and the Taliban? Federal trials? Courts-martial? Military commissions like the ones used for Nazis under President Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Cheney's staff did not reply to invitations to join the interagency working group led by Pierre Prosper, ambassador at large for war crimes. But Addington, the vice president's lawyer, knew what his client wanted, Berenson said. And Prosper's group was still debating details. "Once you start diving into it, and history has proven us right, these are complicated questions," one regular participant said.
The vice president saw it differently. "The interagency was just constipated," said one Cheney ally, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Flanigan recalled a conversation with Addington at the time in which the two discussed the salutary effect of showing bureaucrats that the president could act "without their blessing -- and without the interminable process that goes along with getting that blessing."
Throughout his long government career, Cheney had counseled against that kind of policy surprise, insisting that unvetted decisions lead presidents to costly mistakes.

When James A. Baker III was tapped to be White House chief of staff in 1980, he interviewed most of his living predecessors. Advice from Cheney filled four pages of a yellow legal pad. Only once, to signify Cheney's greatest emphasis, did Baker write in all capital letters:
Cheney told Baker, according to the notes, that an "orderly paper flow is way you protect the Pres.," ensuring that any proposal has been tested against other views. Cheney added:"It's not in anyone's interest to get an 'oh by the way decision' -- & all have to understand that. Can hurt the Pres. Bring it up at a Cab. mtg. Make sure everyone understands this."
In 1999, not long before he became Bush's running mate, Cheney warned again about "'oh, by the way' decisions" at a conference of White House historians. According to a transcript, he added: "The process of moving paper in and out of the Oval Office, who gets involved in the meetings, who does the president listen to, who gets a chance to talk to him before he makes a decision, is absolutely critical. It has to be managed in such a way that it has integrity."
Two years later, at his Nov. 13 lunch with Bush, Cheney brought the president the ultimate "oh, by the way" choice -- a far-reaching military order that most of Bush's top advisers had not seen.
According to Flanigan, Addington was not the first to think of military commissions but was the "best scholar of the FDR-era order" among their small group of trusted allies. "He gained a preeminent role by virtue of his sheer ability to turn out a draft of something in quick time."
That draft, said one of the few lawyers apprised of it, "was very closely held because it was coming right from the top."
'In Support of the President'
To pave the way for the military commissions, Yoo wrote an opinion on Nov. 6, 2001, declaring that Bush did not need approval from Congress or federal courts. Yoo said in an interview that he saw no need to inform the State Department, which hosts the archives of the Geneva Conventions and the government's leading experts on the law of war. "The issue we dealt with was: Can the president do it constitutionally?" Yoo said. "State -- they wouldn't have views on that."
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, was astonished to learn that the draft gave the Justice Department no role in choosing which alleged terrorists would be tried in military commissions. Over Veterans Day weekend, on Nov. 10, he took his objections to the White House.
The attorney general found Cheney, not Bush, at the broad conference table in the Roosevelt Room. According to participants, Ashcroft said that he was the president's senior law enforcement officer, supervised the FBI and oversaw terrorism prosecutions nationwide. The Justice Department, he said, had to have a voice in the tribunal process. He was enraged to discover that Yoo, his subordinate, had recommended otherwise -- as part of a strategy to deny jurisdiction to U.S. courts.
Raising his voice, participants said, Ashcroft talked over Addington and brushed aside interjections from Cheney. "The thing I remember about it is how rude, there's no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president," said one of those in the room. Asked recently about the confrontation, Ashcroft replied curtly: "I'm just not prepared to comment on that."
According to Yoo and three other officials, Ashcroft did not persuade Cheney and got no audience with Bush. Bolten, in an October 2006 interview after becoming Bush's chief of staff, did not deny that account. He signaled an intention to operate differently in the second term.
"In my six months' experience it would not fall to the vice president to referee that kind of thing," Bolten added. "If it is a presidential decision, the president will make it. . . . I think the vice president appreciates that -- that his role is in support of the president, and not as a second-tier substitute."
Three days after the Ashcroft meeting, Cheney brought the order for military commissions to Bush. No one told Bellinger, Rice or Powell, who continued to think that Prosper's working group was at the helm.
After leaving Bush's private dining room, the vice president took no chances on a last-minute objection. He sent the order on a swift path to execution that left no sign of his role. After Addington and Flanigan, the text passed to Berenson, the associate White House counsel. Cheney's link to the document broke there: Berenson was not told of its provenance.
Berenson rushed the order to deputy staff secretary Stuart W. Bowen Jr., bearing instructions to prepare it for signature immediately -- without advance distribution to the president's top advisers. Bowen objected, he told colleagues later, saying he had handled thousands of presidential documents without ever bypassing strict procedures of coordination and review. He relented, one White House official said, only after "rapid, urgent persuasion" that Bush was standing by to sign and that the order was too sensitive to delay. [Read the order]
In an interview, Berenson said it was his understanding that "someone had briefed" the president "and gone over it" already. He added: "I don't know who that was."
'It'll Leak in 10 Minutes'
On Nov. 14, 2001, the day after Bush signed the commissions order, Cheney took the next big step. He told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that terrorists do not "deserve to be treated as prisoners of war."
The president had not yet made that decision. Ten weeks passed, and the Bush administration fought one of its fiercest internal brawls, before Bush ratified the policy that Cheney had declared: The Geneva Conventions would not apply to al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters captured on the battlefield.
Since 1949, Geneva had accorded protections to civilians and combatants in a war zone. Those protections varied with status, but the prevailing U.S. and international view was that anyone under military control -- even an alleged war criminal -- has some rights. Rumsfeld, elaborating on the position Cheney staked out, cast that interpretation aside. All captured fighters in Afghanistan, he said at a news briefing, are "unlawful combatants" who "do not have any rights" under Geneva.

At the White House, Bellinger sent Rice a blunt -- and, he thought, private -- legal warning. The Cheney-Rumsfeld position would place the president indisputably in breach of international law and would undermine cooperation from allied governments. Faxes had been pouring in at the State Department since the order for military commissions was signed, with even British authorities warning that they could not hand over suspects if the U.S. government withdrew from accepted legal norms.
One lawyer in his office said that Bellinger was chagrined to learn, indirectly, that Cheney had read the confidential memo and "was concerned" about his advice. Thus Bellinger discovered an unannounced standing order: Documents prepared for the national security adviser, another White House official said, were "routed outside the formal process" to Cheney, too. The reverse did not apply.
Powell asked for a meeting with Bush. The same day, Jan. 25, 2002, Cheney's office struck a preemptive blow. It appeared to come from Gonzales, a longtime Bush confidant whom the president nicknamed "Fredo." Hours after Powell made his request, Gonzales signed his name to a memo that anticipated and undermined the State Department's talking points. The true author has long been a subject of speculation, for reasons including its unorthodox format and a subtly mocking tone that is not a Gonzales hallmark.
A White House lawyer with direct knowledge said Cheney's lawyer, Addington, wrote the memo. Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, and Gonzales sent it as "my judgment" to Bush [Read the memo]. If Bush consulted Cheney after that, the vice president became a sounding board for advice he originated himself.
Addington, under Gonzales's name, appealed to the president by quoting Bush's own declaration that "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war." Addington described the Geneva Conventions as "quaint," casting Powell as a defender of "obsolete" rules devised for another time. If Bush followed Powell's lead, Addington suggested, U.S. forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists.

According to David Bowker, a State Department lawyer, Powell did not in fact argue that al-Qaeda and Taliban forces deserved the privileges of prisoners of war. Powell said Geneva rules entitled each detainee to a status review, but he predicted that few, if any, would qualify as POWs, because they did not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. "We said, 'If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you're going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you,'" Bowker said.
Late that afternoon, as the "Gonzales memo" began to circulate around the government, Addington turned to Flanigan.
"It'll leak in 10 minutes," he predicted, according to a witness.

The next morning's Washington Times carried a front-page article in which administration sources accused Powell of "bowing to pressure from the political left" and advocating that terrorists be given "all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens."
Though the report portrayed Powell as soft on enemies, two senior government lawyers said, Addington blamed the State Department for leaking it. The breach of secrecy, Addington said, proved that William H. Taft IV, Powell's legal adviser, could not be trusted. Taft joined Bellinger on a growing -- and explicit -- blacklist, excluded from consultation. "I was off the team," Taft said in an interview. The vice president's lawyer had marked him an enemy, but Taft did not know he was at war.
"Which, of course, is why you're ripe for the taking, isn't it?" he added, laughing briefly.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Cheney Exempts Himself From All Accountability

Breaking news: "House investigators have learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from a presidential executive order designed to safeguard classified national security information."

Details continue to emerge on the scope of the Vice-President's exercise of power. Where are the Jedi?

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cheney Out on His Own Branch

A Vice President Without Borders, Bordering on Lunacy
New York Times
June 24, 2007

It’s hard to imagine how Dick Cheney could get more dastardly, unless J. K. Rowling has him knock off Harry Potter next month.
Harry’s cloak of invisibility would be no match for Vice’s culture of invisibility.
I’ve always thought Cheney was way out there — the most Voldemort-like official I’ve run across. But even in my harshest musings about the vice president, I never imagined that he would declare himself not only above the law, not only above the president, but actually his own dark planet — a separate entity from the White House.
I guess a man who can wait 14 hours before he lets it dribble out that he shot his friend in the face has no limit on what he thinks he can keep secret. Still, it’s quite a leap to go from hiding in a secure, undisclosed location in the capital to hiding in a secure, undisclosed location in the Constitution.
Dr. No used to just blow off the public and Congress as he cooked up his shady schemes. Now, in a breathtaking act of arrant arrogance, he’s blowing off his own administration.

Henry Waxman, the California congressman who looks like an accountant and bites like a pit bull, is making the most of Congress’s ability, at long last, to scrutinize Cheney’s chicanery.
On Thursday, Mr. Waxman revealed that after four years of refusing to cooperate with the government unit that oversees classified documents, the vice president tried to shut down the unit rather than comply with the law ensuring that sensitive data is protected. The National Archives appealed to the Justice Department, but who knows how much justice there is at Justice, now that the White House has so blatantly politicized it?
Cheney’s office denied doing anything wrong, but Cheney’s office is also denying it’s an office. Tricky Dick Deuce declared himself exempt from a rule that applies to everyone else in the executive branch, instructing the National Archives that the Office of the Vice President is not an “entity within the executive branch” and therefore is not subject to presidential executive orders.
“It’s absurd, reflecting his view from the first day he got into office that laws don’t apply to him,” Representative Waxman told me. “The irony is, he’s taking the position that he’s not part of the executive branch.”
Ah, if only that were true. Then maybe W. would be able to close Gitmo, which Vice has insisted he not do. And Condi wouldn’t have to worry every night that she’ll wake up to find crazy Dick bombing Iran, whispering to W. that they have to do it before that weak sister Hillary takes over.
“Your decision to exempt your office from the president’s order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk,” Mr. Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote to Cheney.
Of course, it’s doubtful, now that Vice has done so much to put our national security at risk, that he’ll suddenly listen to reason.
Cheney and Cheney’s Cheney, David Addington, his equally belligerent, ideological and shadowy lawyer and chief of staff, have no shame. After claiming executive privilege to withhold the energy task force names and protect Scooter Libby, they now act outraged that Vice should be seen as part of the executive branch.
Cheney, they argue, is the president of the Senate, so he’s also part of the legislative branch. Vice is casting himself as a constitutional chimera, an extralegal creature with the body of a snake and the head of a sea monster. It’s a new level of gall, to avoid accountability by saying you’re part of a legislative branch that you’ve spent six years trying to weaken.
But gall is the specialty of Addington, who has done his best to give his boss the powers of a king. He was the main author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects, and he helped stonewall the 9/11 commission. He led the fights supporting holding terrorism suspects without access to courts and against giving Congress and environmentalists access to information about the energy industry big shots who secretly advised Cheney on energy policy.
Dana Perino (photo, r.), a White House press spokeswoman, had to go out on Friday and defend Cheney’s bizarre contention that he is his own government. “This is an interesting constitutional question that legal scholars can debate,” she said.

I love that Cheney was able to bully Colin Powell, Pentagon generals and George Tenet when drumming up his fake case for war, but when he tried to push around the little guys, the National Archive data collectors — I’m visualizing dedicated “We the People” wonky types with glasses and pocket protectors — they pushed back.
Archivists are the new macho heroes of Washington.

9/11 Looms Large Again to the Doom Meisters

They’ll Break the Bad News on 9/11

~Frank Rich opines that the illusionists that currently command the Executive Branch - whether Dick Cheney thinks he is in it or not - and wage the war from the Pentagon, are simply buying time until Jan 20, 2009. Unless, that is, they can summon the specter of yet another mushroom cloud or worse, to further keep the reins of power securely in their own hands. -MS

By FRANK RICH, New York Times, June 24, 2007

BY this late date we should know the fix is in when the White House's top factotums fan out on the Sunday morning talk shows singing the same lyrics, often verbatim, from the same hymnal of spin. The pattern was set way back on Sept. 8, 2002, when in simultaneous appearances three cabinet members and the vice president warned darkly of Saddam's aluminum tubes. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said Condi Rice, in a scripted line. The hard sell of the war in Iraq — the hyping of a (fictional) nuclear threat to America — had officially begun.
America wasn't paying close enough attention then. We can't afford to repeat that blunder now. Last weekend the latest custodians of the fiasco, our new commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, (photo, r., by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) and our new ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, took to the Sunday shows with two messages we'd be wise to heed.
The first was a confirmation of recent White House hints that the long-promised September pivot point for judging the success of the "surge" was inoperative. That deadline had been asserted as recently as April 24 by President Bush, who told Charlie Rose that September was when we'd have "a pretty good feel" whether his policy "made sense." On Sunday General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker each downgraded September to merely a "snapshot" of progress in Iraq. "Snapshot," of course, means "Never mind!"
The second message was more encoded and more ominous. Again using similar language, the two men said that in September they would explain what Mr. Crocker called "the consequences" and General Petraeus "the implications" of any alternative "courses of action" to their own course in Iraq. What this means in English is that when the September "snapshot" of the surge shows little change in the overall picture, the White House will say that "the consequences" of winding down the war would be even more disastrous: surrender, defeat, apocalypse now. So we must stay the surge. Like the war's rollout in 2002, the new propaganda offensive to extend and escalate the war will be exquisitely timed to both the anniversary of 9/11 and a high-stakes Congressional vote (the Pentagon appropriations bill).
General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker wouldn't be sounding like the Bobbsey Twins and laying out this coordinated rhetorical groundwork were they not already anticipating the surge's failure. Both spoke on Sunday of how (in General Petraeus's variation on the theme) they had to "show that the Baghdad clock can indeed move a bit faster, so that you can put a bit of time back on the Washington clock." The very premise is nonsense. Yes, there is a Washington clock, tied to Republicans' desire to avoid another Democratic surge on Election Day 2008. But there is no Baghdad clock. It was blown up long ago and is being no more successfully reconstructed than anything else in Iraq.
When Mr. Bush announced his "new way forward" in January, he offered a bouquet of promises, all unfulfilled today. "Let the Iraqis lead" was the policy's first bullet point, but in the initial assault on insurgents now playing out so lethally in Diyala Province, Iraqi forces were kept out of the fighting altogether. They were added on Thursday: 500 Iraqis, following 2,500 Americans. The notion that these Shiite troops might "hold" this Sunni area once the Americans leave is an opium dream. We're already back fighting in Maysan, a province whose security was officially turned over to Iraqi authorities in April.

In his January prime-time speech announcing the surge, Mr. Bush also said that "America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced." More fiction. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's own political adviser, Sadiq al-Rikabi, says it would take "a miracle" to pass the legislation America wants. Asked on Monday whether the Iraqi Parliament would stay in Baghdad this summer rather than hightail it to vacation, Tony Snow (photo, r.) was stumped.

Like Mr. Crocker and General Petraeus, Mr. Snow is on script for trivializing September as judgment day for the surge, saying that by then we'll only "have a little bit of metric" to measure success. This administration has a peculiar metric system. On Thursday, Peter Pace, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the spike in American troop deaths last week the "wrong metric" for assessing the surge's progress. No doubt other metrics in official reports this month are worthless too, as far as the non-reality-based White House is concerned. The civilian casualty rate is at an all-time high; the April-May American death toll is a new two-month record; overall violence in Iraq is up; only 146 out of 457 Baghdad neighborhoods are secure; the number of internally displaced Iraqis has quadrupled since January.
Last week Iraq rose to No. 2 in Foreign Policy magazine's Failed State Index, barely nosing out Sudan. It might have made No. 1 if the Iraqi health ministry had not stopped providing a count of civilian casualties. Or if the Pentagon were not withholding statistics on the increase of attacks on the Green Zone. Apparently the White House is working overtime to ensure that the September "snapshot" of Iraq will be an underexposed blur. David Carr of The Times discovered that the severe Pentagon blackout on images of casualties now extends to memorials for the fallen in Iraq, even when a unit invites press coverage.
Americans and Iraqis know the truth anyway. The question now is: What will be the new new way forward? For the administration, the way forward will include, as always, attacks on its critics' patriotism. We got a particularly absurd taste of that this month when Harry Reid was slammed for calling General Pace incompetent and accusing General Petraeus of exaggerating progress on the ground.
General Pace's (photo, with Bush, below) record speaks for itself; the administration declined to go to the mat in the Senate for his reappointment. As for General Petraeus, who recently spoke of "astonishing signs of normalcy" in Baghdad, he is nothing if not consistent. He first hyped "optimism" and "momentum" in Iraq in an op-ed article in September 2004.
Come September 2007, Mr. Bush will offer his usual false choices. We must either stay his disastrous course in eternal pursuit of "victory" or retreat to the apocalypse of "precipitous withdrawal." But by the latest of the president's ever-shifting definitions of victory, we've already lost. "Victory will come," he says, when Iraq "is stable enough to be able to be an ally in the war on terror and to govern itself and defend itself." The surge, which he advertised as providing "breathing space" for the Iraqi "unity" government to get its act together, is tipping that government into collapse. As Vali Nasr, author of "The Shia Revival," has said, the new American strategy of arming Sunni tribes is tantamount to saying the Iraqi government is irrelevant.

For the Bush White House, the real definition of victory has become "anything they can get away with without taking blame for defeat," said the retired Army Gen. William Odom (photo, r.) a national security official in the Reagan and Carter administrations, when I spoke with him recently. The plan is to run out the Washington clock between now and Jan. 20, 2009, no matter the cost.
Precipitous withdrawal is also a chimera, since American manpower, materiel and bases, not to mention our new Vatican City-sized embassy, can't be drawn down overnight. The only real choice, as everyone knows, is an orderly plan for withdrawal that will best serve American interests. The real debate must be over what that plan is. That debate can't happen as long as the White House gets away with falsifying reality, sliming its opponents and sowing hyped fears of Armageddon. The threat that terrorists in civil-war-torn Iraq will follow us home if we leave is as bogus as Saddam's mushroom clouds. The Qaeda that actually attacked us on 9/11 still remains under the tacit protection of our ally, Pakistan.
As General Odom says, the endgame will start "when a senior senator from the president's party says no," much as William Fulbright did to L.B.J. during Vietnam. That's why in Washington this fall, eyes will turn once again to John Warner, the senior Republican with the clout to give political cover to other members of his party who want to leave Iraq before they're forced to evacuate Congress. In September, it will be nearly a year since Mr. Warner said that Iraq was "drifting sideways" and that action would have to be taken "if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function."
Mr. Warner has also signaled his regret that he was not more outspoken during Vietnam. "We kept surging in those years," he told The Washington Post in January, as the Iraq surge began. "It didn't work." Surely he must recognize that his moment for speaking out about this war is overdue. Without him, the Democrats don't have the votes to force the president's hand. With him, it's a slam dunk. The best way to honor the sixth anniversary of 9/11 will be to at last disarm a president who continues to squander countless lives in the names of those voiceless American dead.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ON THE MAP Second Week review

Week 2 Highlights
The second week has blown by fast and it's hard to believe On The Map is already halfway through! If you missed it, here are some of our fave clips from week 2.

War on Terror on Trial: CIA veteran and author Michael Scheuer defends the practice of extraordinary rendition.

American Oil Made in Alberta. Diana Gibson of the Parkland Institute about NAFTA, Kyoto, and Canada's energy security.

Conflict in Gaza: Debunking a media-made civil war. Avi interviews Alastair Crooke of Conflicts Forum for an alternative take. In The Works
Rising inequality in China, and who's being left out of the country's booming fortunes.
Another doc feature by Reed Lindsay on Haiti about how Venezuela and U.S. friction is playing out in the poorest country in the region. Catch his earlier piece here
The war on drugs goes to Afghanistan with American plans to air-dump pesticides on poppy crops.
June 4 to June 28
Mon-Thurs 7:30 pm ET 4:30 pm PT Repeats at 2:30 am ET 11:30 pm

Avi Lewis is one of Canada's most controversial and eloquent media personalities. His new television series - On The Map with Avi Lewis - is a daily half-hour of international news analysis. It debuts June 4, 2007 on CBC Newsworld.
His previous show, The Big Picture with Avi Lewis, aired in the fall of 2006 and combined hard-hitting documentaries and town hall debates.
In 2004, he directed his first feature documentary, The Take, which follows Argentina's new movement of worker-run businesses. An emotional story of hope and resistance in the global economy, The New York Times called it "a stirring, idealistic documentary". It was released theatrically in Canada, the U.S., and across Europe. It was nominated for 4 Gemini Awards, and won the International Jury prize at the American Film Institute festival in Los Angeles.
In the late 90s, as the host and producer of counterSpin on CBC Newsworld, he presided over more than 500 nationally televised debates in three years. And in the early 1990s, he hosted City TV's landmark music journalism show "The New Music", and was MuchMusic's Political Specialist, pioneering political "uncoverage" for a youth audience and winning a Gemini Award for Best Special Event Coverage.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Iraqi legislators offer contrarian view than Bush, want end to "senseless killings"

Iraqi parliament members call for scheduled withdrawal of American troops and Iraqi control of their own oil. From a journal by one of the most fearless filmmakers today, an unedited and bracing dialogue that reveals just how horrific and criminal the war in Iraq really is.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

The best and worst airports in the world and Key West is among guess which category.

The best, worst and weirdest airports in the world. Key West is one of them. Guess which column.
Ah, dear lover of air flight, traveler of the skies, where the vistas are the curves, if not at least the clouds of the globe, defying gravity, suspended by what actually appears to be only the noise of the engines, as nothing else would suggest the weight of the silvery speeding airliners.
But in the very weary worn phrase of "post-9/11", which heavily weighs on aircraft with it's inescapable connection to the horrific events of that fateful day, traveling "by air" has become, well, a real drag. Not that some aspects of being transported by these behemoths of the upper atmosphere didn't already come with plenty of baggage, and not the type that fits under or over the sardined seats. The seats alone are worthy of a level of Dante's special hell for architects.

Yet, we may be "of a certain age" when "catching a plane" wasn't just a figure of speech. It truly was an adventure, the part where "the journey" was as great if not better, than the destination.
I vividly remember, before I was 12, at least, my parents driving in their 1954 powder blue Plymouth, to the local airport, and just park at the edges to watch the departures of the prop planes. One after the other, it was exhilarating - can you imagine? We would even bring a picnic basket! To watch airplanes take off! Cheap thrills. What adventure! Well, they were Protestants, after all. Well, dad was agnostic, but he went along for the ride.

SO, 'ALLLLL aboard!" (a train ref, but no one calls out anything so romantic in air terminals. I mean, if "Rows 8-24 may now show their ID's at the gate" makes your arm hair frizzy, you are one forlorn person). Here's a travel story, and the sad, sad news about the state of airports in a new report rating the best and worst ones. What's missing, like the millions of the Naked Story, is the personal. I'll be your guide for the local lift-off location, cryptically but perhaps quite accurately called EYW. Just put a Southern drawl into it and forget it's closer to Havana than Miami.

The romance, of course, has gone out of airplane traveling. The bloom is long off the room freshener. Hell, so is the food - which has been jettisoned so fast off flights that even those packets of pretzels are no longer offered, let alone peanuts. Which, I have to tell you, on a flight a few years back, to where, god I forget, chomping on those goobers, they chipped a tooth, from which quickly the 1950's mercury laden grey gunk filling pummeled into the the canyon of a cavity, brought about by all the junk food I ate so readily then, by the really sadistic Dr. Wright (his real name, and I hope he's dead by now, and who was the study, I am convinced, for Steve Martin's Dr. Orin Scrivello, DDS, from The Little Shop of Horrors!) crumbled from the remaining molar, and for which I later did not act with the urgency it demanded, and which became abscessed, necessitating the tooth being pulled, then came the crown, then the bridge, and jesus, this cheap bag of nuts gave my current dentist (unlike the Dr. Evil, he's a fantastic dentist, the best I could have ever hoped for) a new car, or at least his child's first year of college tuition. But I digress.

One cannot possibly call air travel fun, whatsoever. Torturous, yes. Gruelling, absolutely. It's something the modern person tolerates, at best, for the dubious convenience of arriving somewhere else, without the troublesome gas stops on the earth bound highways. Let's not even get into the whole carbon-loading equations, the ionosphere depletion, the solar radiation exposure from which the silver steel skin is no defense, nor would applying sunscreen at 30,000 feet make any difference. Just what are we paying for, save a few hours? In some metro areas you must admit it sometimes takes as long to get from your house to the airport terminal, park, wait, wait, wait some more, and then load-in, wait some mooooore on the tarmac, then lift off, and whew, land, wait all over again, and wait for baggage, then repeat the sequence, in reverse with a rental car, and then...collapse... (from whence the phrase, "jet-lag" comes, when "jet-crash" is more descriptive, but macabre) as it would from just driving directly to your destination. You do the math next time. You'd have the sublime advantage of stopping when you want. At least you will have felt as if you actually traversed the trails your ancestors (might) have taken, in less hurried, frenzied times. Just ignore that the Interstates have homogenized the highways and exits all seem to end up at the same U-turn of ubiquitous Waffle Houses.

Who among us has not stood sullenly at the snake-lines for our boarding passes, to only then be subjected to the latest bureaucracy insult - the inane and absurd disrobing of shoes to give the ridiculous impression it's now truly safe to get squeezed into a steel trap and rocketed, against God's Plan, mind you (last I checked humans do not have feathers or arm spans to perform such a feat), vast distances, all in the time it takes for a cart to troll the aisles with beverages so small even your bladder won't register and who wants to suffer the further indignity of really sitting on an airplane toilet, anyway. The cabinet-size closets at one time were at least good for baptism in the Mile-High Club, but no-oooo., not anymore. Feds will bust in their faster than a cluster of clowns tumbling from a VW.

But about those shoes. Leaving City A, I used to wear an entire and full ensemble of real grown-up adult clothes when I would jump in an airplane, on the basis the luggage would be lost, and at least I'd be presentable, when I arrived at City B. Now, I wear as few clothes as possible, so the transit time through the inspection line, the wand-scan, the x-rays, the brain scanners, the pat-down, the side-trip to the behind the TSA curtains for closer examination, more wanding, geiger-counters, iris-probing, breathalyzer, I almost expect to be dosed with sodium pentathol, the "truth" serum, and asked how many fingers do I see wiggling in front of me, before I can "board" the airplane. I think maybe everyone should disrobe like in hospitals, given a green robe that inexplicably has those damn string ties in the back, which is unsettling enough because you know something is going to happen "back there" that will be most unpleasant, even if you like that sort of thing. So then we're all naked and easily purveyed, and of course then we're all safe. Not from your seat-buddy's leering looks, but we're all equal under the glare of a camera. A bag with our clothes will be given at the end of the line. Ha! What am I? Dreaming? Why not just anesthetize every passenger, and throw water in our face at the arrival? But what is with the gov'mint's gauntlet given to the really elderly folks, frail and already fraught, or the treatment dished out to the unsuspecting children (which, if they were so subjected at school as they are in airports, the goons would be indicted under a few ordinances, I am sure), who are expected to behave like the rest of the good obedient soldiers we have all become, as we have quite readily surrendered our liberties in the name of "security". Air travel has become training not for "terrorists", but for somnolence of the citizenry. Be sure to not go barefoot, either. Then you will surely be suspect. We cannot have anarchy!

Our beloved local air strip, with what has to be a facetious honorarium of being tagged an "International" airport is due, I suspect, in part to the conceit of being paraded as "America's only Caribbean Island." Who doesn't love, of course, that we need only drive for five minutes to get there and five to return home. None of that cursed missing an urban turn on the cloverleaf that linguine-like unravels our patience until we nearly cause a wreck or become one. Nothing else is very endearing about the soon to be renamed to "McCoy..." airport, for our sitting county commissioner (what happened to waiting until they're dead?) who ironically is in a long line of his own, awaiting a sexual harassment suit from a former aide. He's also know for having water-skied to Cuba few years back. Kinda cool, really. A big show-boater, eh? The airport has not changed much from this 1960 angle.

Plus, now that it is being "upgraded", even the 50's patina is being stripped away, unless the giant 20' conch shell (photo, r.) painted on the outside is left untouched. The small-town airfield still demands you walk off the plane, where the heavy humidity hits you instantly and down real steps (just like The President always does everywhere he goes, right?) because the big jets can't land here, for which everyone except the veracious airline companies, are relieved about. The "puddle-jumpers" from Miami or elsewhere, now, are a true aerial pleasure, just as soon as you suspend the knowledge that gravity is not just a good idea, it's the law, and the wheel touchdown still feels like a minor miracle, with great relief. A more recent terminal surface "upgrade", a couple years ago, actually made it worse, yanking away the last vestiges of small-town friendliness, by putting up more walls (security, mind you) and packing passengers into a waiting room with no rest rooms, even, or water fountains, and even the first -time installation of air conditioning couldn't make it better. Now this "newest" multi-gazillion buck over-budget, over-deadline expansion, with 2-tier parking garage, "improved" amenities, blah blah blah, is turning it into every other airport. Impersonal, crowded, and get me outta here!

The only good thing left about the Key West airport is just flying over the island, (photo, l, and below) before landing, is just amazing. The ocean, the sky. Oh but that we could just stay floating in the clouds.

What follows is the ratings, as promised, of the best, worst, and weirdest airports in the world. You can zip down until you see KEY WEST. Fasten your seat belts. Get your own peanuts.
(And for those who wish to fast forward, you can jump to the description, copy/paste it to the end of this paragraph, and just as when you are in Key West, you're already back home. Time for that mojito, now!

Buenos dias. - MS
(All photos supplied by me. One needs postcards when you travel.)


By Patrick Smith /
The media has a way of simplifying things. The scheme to "blow up" New York's Kennedy airport, for example. How exactly does one "blow up" a 5,000-acre complex -- complete with 30 miles of road, nine miles of runway, nine terminals and dozens of other buildings? (You might remember Ahmed Ressam, the would-be millennium bomber, snagged at the U.S.-Canada border in 1999 and later convicted for planning to "blow up" Los Angeles International.) Short of setting off a nuclear weapon, I suggest it can't be done. Though I'm unsure who feels the greater disappointment: the alleged conspirators or the millions of travelers who openly detest Kennedy airport. If I'm interpreting the polls correctly, it's the opinion of 99 percent of fliers that for the entire place to disappear in a mushroom cloud would be about the best thing that could happen to it.
That's in terrible taste, I know, and a belligerent knock against what is arguably the most historic major airport in the world. If you're into that sort of thing -- of the 41 million people who pass through JFK each year, I reckon a scant few are smitten with nostalgia. How many people milling around Terminal 3 have any idea that that very building was once the storied Pan Am Worldport, the spot where sheiks and stars and dignitaries once waved to crowds before alighting from silver-skinned propliners and 707s? Not many, save for a few employees and enthusiasts like me. That's unfortunate, but not exactly startling, what with Kennedy's unnavigable sprawl, intense crowds, endless security lines, delays and, as anyone who has ever ridden the customs hall escalators in Terminal 3 can attest, some of the most dilapidated facilities in America.
Though at least it isn't Charles de Gaulle. Say what you might about JFK, it's got history, a couple of bright new concourses, and pleasant views of Jamaica Bay. That concrete oubliette on the outskirts of Paris, on the other hand, deserves a category of shame all its own. Aeroports de Paris has pretensions of turning de Gaulle into Europe's largest and most impressive hub. Already it's the second busiest, but to wring such standing from a place so confoundingly disjointed, dank and just plain ugly will be a challenge for the ages. They should start by putting up signs -- signs, at an airport, is that somehow too un-French? -- that actually direct people to the places they need to go, like to the gates, baggage claim and adjoining terminals. Even de Gaulle's rail link -- good luck finding the station -- if you'll pardon my French, sucks.
Perhaps de Gaulle and not its colonial cousin in Dakar, Senegal, whose wretchedness got this conversation started, should take the prize for the single worst airport on the planet, if only because we expect better from European planners and architects. (Then again, it was the Europeans who gave us the Airbus A380, the worst-looking piece of industrial design ever conceived by human beings.)
Truth be told, it's pretty hard to find an airport that is completely and wholly awful. A more useful criterion focuses on specific terminals. Especially in America, where you often find a collection of chronologically mismatched buildings, each with different amenities and levels of comfort, it's not necessarily fair to praise or vilify an entire airport based on one small section -- not any more than it's fair to judge somebody's home by virtue of a single, unrenovated kitchen or bathroom.
But never mind what I think. I promised to open this up to readers, and so here goes. What follows are the more pithy and colorful of several hundred submitted opinions on the best, worst and strangest airports -- or terminals -- around the globe.
Relatively few of you, it turns out, had much to say about JFK or Charles de Gaulle. The raspberries, as you'll see, fell mostly on London's Heathrow. As for places that people actually like, you expressed a fondness for small, easy-access terminals. No surprise there. My only disappointment is that nobody brought up the supposedly gorgeous little airport in Sukothai, Thailand. I've never been, but with its open-air pavilions, ponds and even a flower-fringed runway, Sukothai is purportedly one of the loveliest terminals anywhere. I haven't the room to include them, but special thanks to those who submitted photographs: Mark Prystajecky for shots of the museum-like façade at Lviv, Ukraine; Ali Hammoud for the hilarious welcome sign at Monrovia, Liberia; and Lesley Egbert's snapshot of the psychedelic beehive atrium at Abu Dhabi.
Letters have been edited for space and clarity.
Changi Airport, Singapore (SIN) (expressway, shown, r.)
"Free movie theater, cellphone chargers, lounge chairs with big-screen TVs, quiet areas. Free PlayStation terminals. The best airport I have ever spent time in."
"The best airport is Singapore's Changi, for the following reasons: excellent transit hotel; massage service; excellent food; nonstop flights to dozens of countries; free movies; subway connection to the entire island; cheap taxis; free city tour; the friendliest immigration officers in the world; flower gardens and koi ponds."
And a swimming pool. We'll skip the many other letters raving about how wonderful Changi is. The airport is as much beloved -- or possibly more so -- as its hometown carrier, Singapore Airlines.
Hong Kong International (HKG)
"Why? I got the best haircut of my life there. A full-on shopping mall. A bakery. Helpful signage in both English and Chinese. Plus, riding the train to and from Kowloon is fun, easy and fast, and you can check your bags at the downtown station."
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
"Brand new and gleaming, Bangkok's new airport sparkles like the mirrors on the National Palace; gleams like the silks worn by Thai Airways flight attendants. It's cavernous and cool, full of marble and light and a shopping plaza boasting Gucci, Coach, Prada (real, not Night Bazaar counterfeits)."
If you're into that kind of thing. If you want my opinion, the less an airport tries to look like an upscale shopping mall, the better.
Siem Reap, Cambodia (REP)
"Siem Reap International is the gateway to Angkor. The architecture is reminiscent of the local temples, and the giant golden lanterns hanging from the vaulted ceilings add a whimsical touch. Wooden shutters lend the air of a guesthouse, and the pond outside provides a peaceful respite. There's also a pleasant Internet cafe and some great shopping, including a fantastic Artisans d'Angkor boutique. The terminal is clean, spacious and staffed by some of the nicest security personnel I've ever had the pleasure of being frisked by."
Hato Airport, Curaçao (CUR)
"A sleepy building, kept comfortable by cold water pumped up from the deep Caribbean Sea. Flower scents in the night. Crickets. Then in the distance, another sound. The airplane approaches, circles, lands. The KLM wide-body moors at the terminal, towering above it. Hustle and bustle, people coming on and off. Then the plane leaves for Amsterdam and the airport goes back to sleep."
Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV)
"We love Ben-Gurion airport. The new Terminal 3 is centered around a spacious atrium filled with soothing fountains, shops and cafes, all bustling even at 3 a.m. The modern building is clad in marble, yet good acoustics and a lack of televisions make it serenely quiet. Security is thorough and effective, yet respectful and efficient. Free Wi-Fi and baggage carts are added perks. Bathrooms are clean and plentiful -- even in the parking lot!"
Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. (GSP)
"The exterior grounds are wonderfully manicured with shade trees, fountains and shrubs. The architecture is airy and moderne. There's a charming, albeit prissy garden. The faux-bronze sculptures are a delight."
"This agreeable place is approached by road through piney woods and onto parklike grounds, giving the feel of approaching a resort hotel, complete with fountain pools at the terminal doors. The long-term parking lots are generously shaded with trees and are an easy walk from the terminal. The swoopy, modernist concourse has comfortable upholstered seats surrounding sculptures and fountains. Best of all is the terrace restaurant and snack bar: more modernist architecture surrounded by an outdoor garden with sculpture and flora native to the Piedmont region. The feel of the place is downright elegant."
Vancouver, British Columbia (YVR)
"Vancouver airport is by far the nicest I've flown into, out of, or through. Spacious atria with local native artwork (including spectacular totem poles), free wireless Internet, and a food court with reasonable prices."
"There's nothing like walking from your plane to customs while strolling past a river and a full-size Haida canoe, the sound of birds and ceremonial drums beating in the background, and a huge wooden raven dangling from the ceiling."
Kona, Hawaii (KOA)
"Like the '50s of an Elvis movie. We disembarked on the tarmac and walked into a beautiful, open-air airport with hutlike bungalows and greenery instead of the usual concrete and glass."
Many Hawaiian airports, even Honolulu International, are open-air, which is something more warm-climate places should copy.
Sacramento (SMF)
"SMF has some great little touches. Traffic is nonexistent and parking is ample and cheap. It'd be nice if the light rail ran out here from downtown, but other cities haven't figured this convenience out either. Second, free Wi-Fi. Word up. Third, plenty of dining choices, and the 'venti' iced coffee is 60 cents cheaper than in a normal Starbucks. Bottom line, it's easy. We don't have much to brag about in Sactown, but our airport is pretty cool."
Reagan Washington National (DCA) (photo, below)
"I'm in love with National (say 'Reagan' under pain of death among locals). Is it the cheery, pleasant yellow that reflects natural light from sky-high windows? Is it the short distances between concourses and the Metro? And National has a real restaurant, with a real wine list (take that, Chili's)."
I'm surprised more people didn't gush about DCA. It has an excellent subway connection, and the beautiful main terminal might just be America's best airport building.
Madison, Wis. (MSN)
"From the curbside, where a glass overhang creates prairie-style shadows on the roadway, to the restaurant dedicated to bratwurst, MSN is imbued with a sense of place while also being extremely easy to travel through. The security staff chat with passengers. The waiting areas have armchairs, fireplaces and local art."
Detroit (DTW)
"No, I'm not kidding. The place was always dark, gloomy. Then the new Northwest terminal opened. The first time I saw it, I was stunned. It was beautiful: light, airy, with a train and moving sidewalks. (Only problem is, the two older terminals are still in use by the other airlines, and look even worse.)"
Memphis, Tenn. (MEM)
"One thing sets Memphis apart: the smell. With a barbecue stand seemingly every 10 feet, the air is thick with the aroma of grilled meat and savory sauce. Curses on my half-hour layover! If there was any justice, I'd be slumped in a waiting area, sauce-smeared and happy even as we speak."

Dakar, Senegal
My awful, middle-of-the-night experience in Dakar is what got this whole thing started. I'm not the only one ...
"As a correspondent based in Senegal I have the distinct displeasure of visiting DKR many times a month. I am, because of my job, something of an expert in African airports, and I can back up your assertion that it really is the worst. One would expect Lagos to be a nightmare, for example, but in fact it's pretty much a breeze. Abidjan has a great restaurant, bookstore and pharmacy. The renovated terminal in Accra is terrific and efficient. Bamako and Ouagadougou have small but organized airports, and Bangui is pretty good. N'djamena, Monrovia ... even Kinshasa isn't awful like DKR. None have that grim combination of a total absence of comfort and aggressive loiterers."
"DKR is disproportionately bad considering the relative prosperity of Senegal. I would have expected Ouagadougou's airport, in nearby Burkina-Faso, to be a catastrophe, but it's great. It's similar at Bamako, Mali -- a bombed-out ruin of a city. Somehow, Dakar beats out two of the poorest nations on the planet."
Mumbai, India (BOM)
"Full of hungry mosquitoes the size of horseflies. They flew up my pant legs! Random pieces of equipment are set about with no apparent purpose except to be in the way. No directions to gates or baggage claim. Sullen employees who wish you'd go away."
As many travelers know, India's geographical placement ensures that most long-haul flights arrive and depart in the wee hours, making the experience that much less enjoyable.
Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
"The plane banks over the Nile, then dips its wings to display the plateau of Giza and the Pyramids; the ancient walls of the Old City; the souks and bazaars. Cairo! But is this the airport? It looks and smells like the Greyhound station in San Francisco, circa '59, embodying all the glories and aspirations of Soviet-style nonfunctional architecture. And once through customs, one is assailed by drivers and hustlers hawking everything from pens to thousand-dollar excursions (stay away from the aptly named Al-Joker Tours)."
"Cairo is revolting. The entire place is filled with such dense clouds of cigarette smoke that it is a cancer risk just to fly there. Check-in is a free-for-all mass of shoving and shouting, with hundreds of people begging the indifferent clerks for attention. Luggage men climb upon mountains of suitcases to identify tour tags, pull at the pile until it collapses. The bags are piled on carts destined for various hotels, regardless of where their owners actually are staying. I have no idea what amenities the terminal offers. We were herded into a bare room, placed under guard, and made to stand for hours until our plane was ready. (Once on board, however, I have to say that EgyptAir was one of the nicest airlines I've ever flown.)"
Sheremetyevo International, Moscow (SVO)
"The best at being worst is Sheremetyevo, built for the 1980 Olympics by crazed East German architects angry at their Soviet masters. Dim and grungy, with bizarre hexagonal clusters hanging from the ceiling; populated by roving bands of Gypsies and transit passengers lying around the floor awaiting escape; staffed by surly employees looking for naive foreigners to pad their salary. It's an hour in the passport control line. You retrieve your luggage -- or don't, depending on how well you wrapped it in duct tape -- and lug it to the customs line. After a long wait, an agent paws through your belongings before releasing you into a mob of taxi drivers and thieves."
"You can smoke. You can board a plane while staggeringly drunk and no one will say anything. In a corner on the ground floor there's a mini casino with bizarre games of chance. A shitty sandwich costs $10. The locals are unfriendly. It's still not uncommon to get detained and ripped off by one of the myriad police gangs shaking down passengers. The bathrooms are disgusting despite being constantly cleaned by a gaggle of old ladies who don't mind that you're peeing in front of them. A ride to the city takes two hours due to traffic jams. Taxis cost hundreds of dollars for people who can't bargain with the greedy drivers. And the people arriving on flights from the U.S. seem to uniformly be American adoptive couples -- the single most annoying group of people of all time, for some reason."
"Sheremetyevo was a total nightmare until recently; it's now only a partial nightmare. The planning geniuses constructed two terminals, international and domestic, on opposite sides of the runways, meaning a 30-minute ride on the ring road. No one ever thought to put up signs directing transfer passengers, who must find an unmarked bus cruising around the parking lot while avoiding the scam artists trying to snag you for $50 cab fares."
O'Hare International, Chicago (ORD)
"The logistical ballet of air travel always reaches its statistically inevitable breakdown at O'Hare. Delayed crews, AWOL planes, gate reassignments, deicing delays, storms, power outages. During these fiascoes, there is absolutely nothing to do or see. The new terminals feel like warehouses, and forget about decent food. Topping it all off is the O'Hare Hilton, which I can't help but free-associate with words like 'organized crime,' 'infidelity' and 'despair.'"
Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
"I've yet to experience an airport in a third-world country, but I imagine Houston's Terminal B does a good job of approximating one. It is dimly lit and depressingly colored; there is one tiny deli to serve everyone, and one bathroom. One only needs imagine crates of clucking chickens and guards toting machine guns to complete the effect. Terminal B houses the gates used by Continental's regional jets. They've crammed as many tiny gates as possible into the space, with jets taking off for such glamorous destinations as Brownsville, Shreveport and Wichita. Taken as a whole, IAH is not a bad airport (especially the Pappadeaux restaurant), but avoid Terminal B at any cost."
Key West, Fla. (EYW)
"EYW is onomatopoeically coded. As you said, critiquing airports is all about expectations, which at least for me are elevated when visiting the haven of Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Harry Truman. What you get at Key West is a sweaty outdoor wait at the curb, surly TSA employees who hate kids, a claustrophobic departure lounge, and an outdoor boarding pen featuring in-your-face jet exhaust. I found myself longing for Vladivostok."
Ontario, Calif. (ONT)
"When flying through Ontario in order to save $15 by avoiding LAX, be aware of the following: Once baggage is checked, you join a throng of frustrated cheapskates waiting to drop their luggage at the bomb scanner. You then graduate to a longer escalator line, which leads to an M.C. Escher maze through security. Finally in the concourse, enjoy the low ceilings, buzzing fluorescent lights, and $10 burritos."
London Heathrow (LHR)
"Heathrow is a random conglomeration of pitifully ugly buildings of the kind often called 'utilitarian' -- a term that hints they were actually designed for some utility, which is not the case. Getting between the terminals requires a shuttle trip that seems to cross all of southern England. There's a pair of traffic lights that turn green every 15 minutes or so, unleashing a stampede of private cars, parcel vans and buses into a spaghetti bowl of roadways and overpasses."
"Changing flights at Heathrow: Get off the plane, up the jetway, up the stairs, across the bridge, down the escalator, wait in line. Down the stairs, out the doors, onto the bus, across the city, across another city, off the bus, up the escalator, down the hall, through the double doors. Have a seat, your flight is two hours late. Down the hall, down the stairs, down the jetway, and onto the plane."
"I worked as a runner on a fly-on-the-wall TV series about Heathrow. Nowhere is as 12th-circle-of-hellish. I can tell you about the maggot-infested, abandoned suitcases at Terminal 1, which did the rounds on the carousel for weeks at a time. I can tell you about the tropical crickets and spiders inhabiting the false ceiling in Terminal 3. I can tell you about the football games the baggage handlers play with your luggage. I can tell you what the burger cook does to your 5-pound burger. London Heathrow. Worst. Airport. Ever."
"Circle for an hour. Land. Taxi for 30 minutes to a stand so distant that it's practically in Sunbury. Wait. Eventually a bus turns up. Drive for 20 minutes. Two-mile walk down corridors. Baggage conveyor broken. Wait an hour; somebody turns up with a screwdriver. Emerge into the rain and pay $100 for a ride downtown. Welcome to London."
"Heathrow is a sprawling mess where nothing works and everything is filthy. You walk for miles on floors matted with dirt; the decor is concrete slabs with industrial pipes precariously suspended from low ceilings; areas are roped off or covered in plastic sheeting; everything looks unfinished and stays that way for years. It is dimly lit, and the signs point you in the wrong direction."
Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
"Who came up with that absolutely crack-brained triple-horseshoe design -- with a tram that only goes in one direction? American Airlines' annoyingly named SkytrAAin whizzes people to their gate at speeds of up to 6 miles per hour, using a modified electric bobsled that would have looked dated at the 1964 World's Fair."
Lahore, Pakistan (LHE)
"A lot like Dakar, but without the pleasant bistro. Filth? Check. Touts, ruffians and beggars? Check. Vaguely threatening government functionaries? Check. There are also church police, an alcohol ban, and a giant room full of luggage where bribes are extracted to facilitate finding your 'lost' items. I encourage you to visit the airport's dysfunctional Web page. Notice that the photos are retouched and the links don't work."